Questions Round A Head


Every time you communicate with your non-profit donors and the community, you’re either reinforcing their understanding of you or confusing them.

Think about it – the nonprofits that regularly and consistently share about their mission have supporters who are very clear about the nonprofit’s purpose. They get it and they’re excited to be part of it.

Those nonprofits with communications that are all over the place tend to have fewer supporters, because people can’t wrap their minds around what the nonprofit is doing. People might hear something occasionally that resonates with them, but they’re not likely to stick around.

What we’re talking about here is being clear about the messages you share about your organization’s work.

Let’s break it down.

You have a mission, right? Hopefully, you can clearly articulate it and explain exactly who you help and how you do it. If not, pause now and go work on that. We’ll wait.

Next, you need 2 or 3 key points you want to make to help everyone better understand your mission. These are key messages.

What is a key message?
A key message is something that defines you and distinguishes you. It’s something you share at every opportunity, because it’s critical that people understand it. It’s a teaching point or it dispels a myth.

A key message is

  • Simple and easy to understand
  • Memorable
  • Interesting and relevant
  • Emotionally powerful
  • Targeted at a specific audience

When I worked at the food bank, we had a long, jargonish mission statement that I noticed didn’t have much impact when I shared it with people 1-on-1 or in a presentation. I also noticed that there were some common questions that people asked. Most people didn’t think hunger was a problem in our community. So, I figured out that by sharing one simple statistic in everyday language, I could dispel the myth, do some education, and grab peoples’ hearts all at the same time. That stat? 1 out of every 8 people in East Tennessee will miss a meal today, and not because they want to.

See how simple that is?

It became a key message. We needed people to understand the magnitude of the problem and that it existed right here in our backyard. I shared that stat in our newsletter, on our website, in press releases – just about everywhere I could. And it worked. People started to understand.

What are the common myths about your cause?

What questions do you get asked over and over? This will give you some hints about what your key messages should be.

As you start to put together your key messages, consider these questions.

  1. Who is the audience? Who are you addressing (hint: it’s not everyone!) Get clear about the segment you’re talking to – women 35 to 55; men 18 to 35; Baby Boomers; etc.  When you know who you’re talking to, you can choose words they will understand and respond to.
  2. What is the simple point we want to get across? This is important! Get really clear about the point you want to drive home. It can’t be a whole lot of stuff – make it 1 simple point.
  3. What do they currently know about this point? Chances are good, your audience doesn’t know much about your cause or the point you want to make, so keep things really simple and basic for them. Leave out the jargon and keep it simple enough for an 8-year old to understand.
  4. What do we want them to feel? There’s always emotion attached to giving. Do you want people to be outraged at the current situation? Do you want them to feel deep compassion for those you’re trying to help? Choose ONE emotion you want people to feel and make sure your key message communicates it.
  5. What action do we want them to take? After people see or hear your key message, what do you want them to do? It might be to make a donation, or it might be something else, like signing a petition, volunteering, adopting, or something else. Get clear on this – if you’re not clear about what you want them to do, I promise you they won’t be either.

Once you get the answers to those questions, you can start to formulate your actual key message. Now it’s a matter of finding and playing with words until you get them in a combination that has plenty of power and juice.
Your Turn.
I challenge you to come up with 2-3 things you really need people to understand about your cause, and turn them into key messages that you can use in your materials, on your website, in presentations, and in your social media. Make them full of emotion and targeted at a specific audience. They can be facts people need to know, myths you want to bust, or statements of the big hairy goal your nonprofit is working toward.

And get ready to get tired of them! You’ll need a lot of repetition for them to sink in. Use them frequently, in written words, graphics, video, and audio.

Well-done key messages will set you apart and make you memorable. And they will likely draw more supporters to you.

You’re welcome to post your key messages in the comments below.


Want to know what it takes to create repeatable, sustainable funds for your nonprofit?

It’s all about the donor list.

Think about it: when you surround your nonprofit with a lot of people who care about your work, you have a ready-made army of supporters. They’ll be there to support your work in an ongoing way because they care about the lives your nonprofit is changing.

The more importance you place on the list, the better.

Nurture it. Take care of it. Grow it. It’s your future.


1. What the List Is and Isn’t

Your list, or house list as it’s sometimes called, is the list of names of people you can reach out to for support.

It’s your rolodex of partners.

It’s people who have given you permission to connect with them. At some point, they’ve willingly given you their information (and maybe a donation).

They’re interested in what you’re doing and they want to see you succeed.

The worst thing you can do is treat them like an ATM machine and show up with your hand out all the time. We all have that friend who only calls when they want something. Don’t be like that with your donors.

Treat them like partners. Communicate regularly. Keep them in the know about what’s happening in your programs and the impact you’re having. Most importantly, tell them the stories about the lives that are being changed by your nonprofit’s work.

Key takeaway: Think of the people on your list as valuable, caring partners, not just faceless, nameless sources of donations.


2. The Four Main Segments of Your List

Your list has several segments or groups of people:

  • Active donors. These are people who have given sometime in the last year. (You can define “active” as the last 15 months or 18 months if you like. I use 12 months just to keep it simple.)
  • Lapsed donors. These folks have given at some point in the past, but not in the last 12 months. The more time that goes by, the lower your chances get of renewing them.
  • VIPs. These are people who haven’t given, but there’s a really important reason for them to be on your list. They may be reporters who have done a story on your organization and you’ve developed a relationship with them. They may be your local county commissioners, city counsel, state or federal senators or representatives. Or maybe they have another important connection to your organization.
  • Prospects. These are people who haven’t given and you don’t know who they are or where they came from. It’s probably time to take them off the list.

As you’re connecting with your list, you may want to communicate differently with each segment. For example, your active donors are much closer to your nonprofit and you might use warmer, friendlier language with them. You might need to use more encouragement with lapsed donors to remind them that giving to your mission is a good thing.

Your list of donors and prospects is pure gold. Treat these people well, and you’ll see donations increase. That means you need a communications strategy for your list. Don’t just shoot out an email because you need money. Be sure you are providing them great information and stories with plenty of emotion. Space the communications out so that there aren’t several all bunched up together followed by months of radio silence.

Remember that communication with people on your list is about their convenience, not yours. Make sure that everything you send them is interesting and relevant. When you communicate based on segments, it’ll be easier to share the right things.

Key takeaway: Communicate regularly and appropriately with the people on your list, based on their experience with you.


3. Manage Your List in the Right Container

Have you ever tried to put away leftover food only to find that the container you picked wasn’t the right size? And you had to pick again? Frustrating, I know.

Likewise, it’s best to store your list in the right software. What you need is a donor-tracking database.

A donor-tracking database is written specifically for managing donor info and donation details. Yeah, you can do this in Excel when you’re first starting out, but you should outgrow it quickly.

A good donor-tracking software will be easy to use. You should be able to easily enter donor info, add donations, and get reports to help you manage your fundraising activities and campaigns. You’ll know with a few clicks how your appeal is doing or how much you raised with your event.

It’s really important to get one that you like. If you like it, you’ll use it. If you don’t, you won’t. And it won’t do you much good if you don’t use it!

There are plenty of good ones out there. Go to and to get an idea of the various programs out there. Also check out to find software at a great price (especially for the really small nonprofits!).

If I had to pick a software for myself today, I’d choose Bloomerang for its focus on donor retention and its ability to help you manage email fundraising. And I like their customer service.

Key takeaway: Pick a donor-tracking database that fits your needs to house your list and then use it.


4. Where and When to Grow Your List

There are lots of ways to add names to your list. The thing that I learned as a Development Director was to always be on the lookout for list-growing opportunities.ezine 2-24 #2

  • If I was exhibiting at a volunteer fair, I had a signup sheet for people to give me their name, address, email, and phone number.
  • At events, I made sure I got complete info for attendees.
  • Online, I made sure I had an opt-in box on the website for people to sign up for our newsletter.

The key here is to get permission. Never add a bunch of names to your list without permission. You’ll just annoy those people and screw up your chances of ever getting support from them.

When I teach list-growing in a class or to my clients, I show them how to leverage relationships of current donors and supporters by asking them for referrals to others who might also care about the organization. That can be as simple as asking each Board member to send letters to 10 of their friends, or asking current volunteers to bring a friend the next time they come. It’s a simple strategy, but it does require some planning.

List building is an ongoing activity. It’s easier to do in the Fall when people are more charitably-minded, but it can happen in smaller amounts all year long. You might even set a goal for yourself to add 10 new donors to your list each month. (If 10 seems too easy, make it 100.)

If you want more, here’s a webinar I did recently called “14 Low-Cost Ideas to Bring in New Donors.”

Key takeaway: Always be on the lookout for ways to grow your list. And add new names regularly.


5. How to Keep Your List Clean

List hygiene is really important.

If half your email addresses are bad, then you won’t see the results you’re hoping for when you send out an email appeal. Likewise, if you have hundreds of bad mailing addresses, you’ll waste a lot of money on printing and postage when your direct mail is returned to you or worse, trashed.

Always watch for email bounces and returned mail. You must be diligent in keeping donor records updated to the best of your knowledge. It’s an ongoing job and not very glamorous, but it’s critical to your overall success.

Designate someone to do regular maintenance. Scan your data for duplicate records. Update the donors who have changed jobs or moved and now have a new address or email. An hour or so each week can mean a big difference in the quality of your list.

Key takeaway: A clean list is a responsive list. Spend time regularly keeping the data up to date.


6. Focus on an Equal Exchange With The People on Your List

Owning a list gives you power, and you must use that power for good, Batman.

Use the list to share updates, invite people to events, and to ask for money. Keep in mind that every time you ASK for something, you’re taking points out of the emotional bank account. To balance that, add points to the emotional bank account by giving the people on your list something of value, like stories of the lives being changed by your nonprofit. Share photos and videos. Give your list something that warms their heart, makes them chuckle, or pisses them off.

The work your nonprofit does should have a deep emotional component to it, and the more you can connect your list with that emotion, the better.

Key takeaway: Give something as often as you ask for something. And give things that are meaningful to your list.


The Bottom Line

I always say that good fundraising is about getting in front of the right people at the right time with the right message. When you build a list of the right people and keep it clean, fundraising gets a whole lot easier.


Oddly enough, this started with a conversation with my chiropractor.

She was telling me that she’d been trying to volunteer with the local pregnancy support group. And she was frustrated.

She told me a story that’s way too common. Maybe you’ve experienced this too. I sure have.

She reached out to them to volunteer. They asked for a bunch of information, which she gave. Then she didn’t hear a thing for weeks.

She called them again to see what was happening, because she really wanted to help. And again, nothing, no response.

After many weeks, she emailed one last time and got a lame “yeah, we’ve been busy” kind of email and nothing else. So she gave up.

She’s a bright, caring woman and has a LOT to offer. She might have been their best volunteer EVER. But they’ll never find out. Because they wasted the opportunity.

This happens every day in nonprofits all over the world and it has GOT TO STOP.

If we are serious about fulfilling our mission to end hunger or homelessness, eliminate euthanasia, get rid of waiting lists for our programs, or whatever it is we’re dreaming of, we cannot afford to waste a single opportunity to add resources to our operations.

Here’s the truth: You need resources to operate. You can’t run your nonprofit from your own pocket. So, everyone who wants to give you money or their time is a precious resource of an unknown value. You have no idea how much the next person who walks through your door might bring to you.
So, until you know otherwise, treat everyone as if they are capable of making a game-changing gift to your nonprofit.

It’ll help you stop wasting opportunities.

Here are a dozen ways that I see nonprofits waste opportunities for fundraising and resource development.

  1. When people want to volunteer and you don’t accommodate them. Who is trying to contact you to give their time and instead they’re growing frustrated because they’re running into dead ends? This happened to me several years ago. We had just adopted 2 cats from the local shelter and I offered to help them write grants. They took my card and said someone would get back in touch. Then I never heard anything back. I offered twice more before I gave up in frustration. Here’s the real problem: these folks are likely to tell several of their friends about their experience, which is NOT the kind of publicity you want. So, get your act together and be ready with a process to interview and onboard volunteers. If you can’t use volunteers right now, that’s fine – just tell people so they have the right expectation.
  2. When people sponsor your event and you don’t invite them back the next year. This is insane to me, yet I see it happen over and over. If a business, a group, or an individual is willing to give you money for a sponsorship, they are telling you with their money that they care about your work. Take it seriously. Thank them well. Connect with them a couple of times over the next several months. Then ask them to sponsor again the next year. If you don’t, you’re just leaving money on the table.
  3. When you don’t ask friends and family to donate to your cause.  Again, huge mistake. Friends and family are the ones who MOST want to see you succeed and they’re happy to help you if they can. I had someone try to tell me recently that they don’t want to ask friends for donations because they don’t want fundraising to be ego-driven or be all about them. Sorry, it doesn’t have to be about your ego – it’s about your nonprofit’s mission. Move yourself out of the way, and ask friends and family to support your work. (Notice I said “your work” and not “you.”)
  4. When you don’t utilize the gifts and talents of your Board members. You have people sitting on your Board right now who have additional skills they could be bringing to the table. Chances are good they won’t take the initiative to ask you what else they could be doing, so schedule lunch with them individually and ask them how else they’d like to get involved. The key here is that it’s your responsibility to help them get more involved – not theirs. Don’t wait on them.
  5. When you don’t ask people who have used your services to donate. People who have received some service from your nonprofit have the best understanding of the need and the value you’re bringing to the community. Ask them to help. You might need to wait for the appropriate time, but don’t wait forever. When I worked at the Food Bank, we saw this all the time. People who were getting food baskets would normally come back around to donate later. It might be several months or years, but they almost always would. For animal rescue groups, you need to be asking adopters to donate. Adoption day is a highly-charged emotional event, and chances are good that if you ask them to give, they will.
  6. When you only ask donors to give once a year.  Big mistake. People who believe in your mission WANT to see you succeed. If you’re only asking once a year because you’re afraid you’ll offend them or wear out your welcome, you’re missing the boat. Instead of looking at your donors as sources of money, see them as partners in your work. Wouldn’t a partner want to help out regularly? Make that shift in your mindset and start asking more often.
  7. When you spend your time doing something that someone else could do. Every one of us has unique gifts and strengths that we bring to our nonprofit. Ideally, we should spend most of our day working in those strengths. When you spend your time emptying the trash or doing clerical work, it doesn’t serve anyone. I had a client several years ago who was the Executive Director of a multi-million dollar nonprofit. Their janitor had retired, and this ED decided that to save a little money, he’d clean the bathrooms himself. Talk about a waste of resources! This guy was probably making $50 an hour or more, and he was doing minimum wage work. Outsource or delegate all those things you shouldn’t be doing. If you’re the only person in your organization, then get yourself some volunteers and interns. You don’t have to be the Lone Ranger and you need to spend your time doing what you’re good at.
  8. When you purchase training materials then never use them. This happens to all of us. We buy a book or a webinar, then never carve out the time to absorb it. Or we spend the money to go to a conference, where we get tons of great ideas. Then we come back and get right back in the groove, and all those great ideas stay in a notebook on the shelf. Total wasted resource. I know it isn’t easy to start doing new things, but try this: Prioritize the ideas you got from your last workshop or conference, then carve out an hour next week to start on the first one. I bet that once you get started, you’ll want to keep working on it. Then when you’re done with that one, start on the second one.
  9. When you spend time doing the wrong things. This is another common one, because we tend to do things that we’ve always done. We work from habit rather than intent. If you’re like most folks working in nonprofit, you’re doing event after event, and you never stop to think about why you’re doing them or whether you SHOULD be doing them. How about doing one really good signature event and then spend the rest of your time focused on individual donors? The return on your investment will be much higher. Look at everything you’re doing with a critical eye and make sure it’s worth doing.
  10.  When you get turned down for a grant and you don’t follow up to ask questions.  With grant writing, there’s a pretty good learning curve in the beginning. And one of the best things you can do is to learn from your mistakes. So, when you get that rejection email or letter, call the foundation (if you can) and ask them what you might have done to strengthen your proposal. Now, foundations are all different, and some are friendlier than others. You may not be able to contact them all, but contact the ones you can. You’ll eventually get one who will take the time to talk with you and give you good feedback. I once got a $40,000 refrigerated truck because I took the time to call a foundation and ask what I could do to strengthen my proposal after getting a rejection letter. The lady gave me good feedback (my budget section was weak), then she called me about 6 weeks later and said they had another grant opp ortunity and wondered if I’d be interested. I submitted a new proposal and got the grant. It was definitely worth the initial follow-up call!
  11. When you go speak to a group and you don’t ask them to take the next step to get involved. If you’re going to do public speaking to raise awareness and gather support, make sure you have a great, engaging presentation, then have a clear call to action at the end. Ask people to help you. Get their contact information. Give them a sheet with various things they can do to get involved, like volunteering, touring your facility, inviting you to speak somewhere else, or making a financial gift. The easier you make it for them to see and take the next step, the more people will do it.
  12. When you don’t thank donors at all or do a terrible job of it. This may be the biggest sin of all. When people give you money, your job is to thank them and help them feel good about their decision to give. When you don’t thank a donor, what message does that send? “We’re only after your money” right? No one will give again. If you’re thanking donors, but use the same dry, stale thank you letter you’ve been using for the past 10 years, what message does THAT send? It’s time to uplevel your thanking, and knock your donors’ socks off. Send a warm, sincere, prompt letter that builds trust and watch what happens.

One of the best things you can do when it comes to building relationships with your donors is to work to become their favorite. They are probably giving to a couple of other organizations, and all you have to do is shine brighter than they do.

If you’ll stop wasting your fundraising opportunities, and focus on giving your donor a great experience, you’ll see your donors become more loyal and their giving go up. Then you can change more lives, because that’s what this is really all about.

cartoon number one

As a fundraiser, you ask for money all the time.

But when was the last time you were a donor?

Any fundraiser worth his or her salt should have the experience of giving. Making a donation to another nonprofit gives you a chance to sit on the other side of the table and feel what it’s like to be thanked (or not) and valued (or not).

Try this: choose a couple of nonprofits and send a small gift. Then notice how you feel.

Most donors feel great when they give. I usually wish I could give more.

Now, watch for the Thank-You. What does it look like? What impression does it give you? Does it make you feel appreciated? Again, how do you feel?

Make a mental note of your experience and your feelings.

Then go back and take a look at what you’re doing to raise money. Are you doing things that will help your donor feel really good? Or are you boring them?

My theory is that the better experience you give your donors, the more they’ll care about the work you’re doing, and the more likely they’ll be to give again.

When people don’t feel appreciated or don’t think their gift matters, that’s when they go away.

Now, back to your experience. Over the next few months, notice what else you get from the nonprofit you gave to. What do they send you? What messages do you get, both the ones you read and the ones you pick up?

Are you asked to give again before you feel engaged? Or do you receive more information about how your gift is being used?

Do they talk about their organization and their needs in a way that makes you feel like an outside or do they use language that makes you feel like a partner in their work?

You can watch webinars and read books to learn about fundraising and donor relations, but I think this one exercise of being the donor will teach you way more. And chances are good you’ll become much better at taking care of your donors.

cartoon number one

As a fundraiser, you ask for money all the time.

But when was the last time you were a donor?

Any fundraiser worth his or her salt should have the experience of giving. Making a donation to another nonprofit gives you a chance to sit on the other side of the table and feel what it’s like to be thanked (or not) and valued (or not).

Try this: choose a couple of nonprofits and send a small gift. Then notice how you feel.

Most donors feel great when they give. I usually wish I could give more.

Now, watch for the Thank-You. What does it look like? What impression does it give you? Does it make you feel appreciated? Again, how do you feel?

Make a mental note of your experience and your feelings.

Then go back and take a look at what you’re doing to raise money. Are you doing things that will help your donor feel really good? Or are you boring them?

My theory is that the better experience you give your donors, the more they’ll care about the work you’re doing, and the more likely they’ll be to give again.

When people don’t feel appreciated or don’t think their gift matters, that’s when they go away.

Now, back to your experience. Over the next few months, notice what else you get from the nonprofit you gave to. What do they send you? What messages do you get, both the ones you read and the ones you pick up?

Are you asked to give again before you feel engaged? Or do you receive more information about how your gift is being used?

Do they talk about their organization and their needs in a way that makes you feel like an outside or do they use language that makes you feel like a partner in their work?

You can watch webinars and read books to learn about fundraising and donor relations, but I think this one exercise of being the donor will teach you way more. And chances are good you’ll become much better at taking care of your donors.

ezine 2-3 second pic.jpg

There’s a common misconception among nonprofits and it goes something like this:

“Every last penny we can get our hands on should go directly to programs. And we’ll pinch that penny until it screams.”

I agree that programs should be funded. In fact, they should be so well funded that you have all the supplies and equipment you need, plenty of staff, and no waiting list.

However, sometimes it’s not healthy to spend everything on programs.
You need to spend money on building up your capacity to continue to do your good work.

This means investing in staff and infrastructure.

The Myth of the Shoestring Budget is rampant. Lots of nonprofit leaders seem proud that they are uber-lean.

I think it’s a huge problem.

You just can’t grow an organization when you aren’t willing to spend money to hire more staff, pay current staff better, invest in their training or get them the tools they need.

And let’s face it – most nonprofits are nothing without staff. They need people to actually deliver service and run the programs.

The critical piece is this: when your organization doesn’t have enough money coming in, you can’t fully serve the ones who are depending on you.

Organizations that are proud of their shoestring budget are likely underfunded. It kills me when I find one that is not only underfunded, but proud of it! Really? What’s there to be proud of?

It stems from a mindset about money. When you believe completely in your dream to change lives, you’re more likely to do whatever it takes to raise the money you need. When you believe that there’s a limited amount of resources out there, and that it’s going to be hard to raise the money you need, you’ll struggle.

Simple as that.

Nonprofits led by people with a scarcity mindset tend to be underfunded. Those lead people who are dedicated to their big vision tend to find a way to fully fund their programs.

Here’s the real difference between fully funded and underfunded nonprofits.

Underfunded Fully funded
Focused on “fundraisers” and events Focused on donors
Make decisions based on what’s in the bank Make decisions based on the need in the community and their vision to meet that need
Live from one cash infusion to the next (grant to grant or event to event) Has a steady stream of revenue all year long
Most revenue comes from one main source (one grant or one big event) Has diversified revenue streams and money comes from many sources
Lives with a poverty mentality – pinches pennies Committed to doing whatever it takes to be successful
Settles for whatever they can get Not good with status quo and will find a way to overcome it
All about the money All about the relationships

It’s all about what you want to work toward. If you want to make your big vision a reality, then work to fully fund your programs. Refuse to buy into the myth of the shoestring budget.

Donors are savvy these days. They know you need good systems and support to effectively run an organization. They also know you need good staff and that you have to pay them fairly.

Don’t try to do everything on the cheap. It shows you’re a serious organization when you spend money on things like staff and Board training.

Just in case you need them, here are some reasons WHY you should invest in yourself and in your organization.

  • It’s the best return on your investment.  For a nonprofit, there’s no better place to invest money. Staff development is the most important key for future success.  The dividends from investing in your knowledge are many – new skills, new resources, improved commitment, an attitude adjustment – the list goes on.
  • It ensures the future success of your organization.  If you want to make sure that your organization is around in 1 year or 5 years or 20 years, invest in it today!  How else will you keep up with the latest trends in fundraising and nonprofit management?
  • It shows that you’re serious about what you’re doing.  People who are serious about success invest in themselves.  They attend workshops and conferences to increase their knowledge about their field.  They do what it takes to make sure they’re playing at the top of their game.
  • It demonstrates your commitment to your mission.  Leaders of organizations that have risen to the top of the pack have the attitude of doing whatever it takes.  They are uber-committed to their mission and the people they serve.  You better believe they are investing in their people!
  • It shows you are committed to being around for the long haul.  By investing in yourself and your nonprofit, you show that you are committed to long-term success, not some flash-in-the-pan adventure.

Investing in yourself and your team is one of the smartest things you can do. And turning your back on the Myth of the Shoestring Budget is another smart move.

It’s acceptable to spend up to 20% of your revenue on fundraising, management, and administration.
If you spend it wisely, it should come back to you in spades.



Here’s an oldie but a goodie. This article first appeared on the blog in 2013, and it’s still just as applicable today.

It’s January and that means it’s a fresh year full of possibilities!

If you haven’t started planning yet, you’re already late (this year will slip away from you before you know what’s happening!).

Planning doesn’t have to be hard or take a lot of time, but it does require some serious thought.

Carve out a little time to at least get the basics, if not all the detail for your coming year.

Remember that having a well-thought-out plan will move you from being reactive to being proactive, which will lessen your stress and make you more productive. And don’t we all want that?

So, grab a pen and paper and ponder these 7 questions before you finish your fundraising plan for the year.

1. How much money do we need to raise?

You need a specific goal for your plan. If you just want to “raise more money” you’re setting yourself up for failure. After all, how much is more money? $1 more? $100 more? $1,000,000 more?

2. Where will the money come from?

You need a mix of revenue streams to ensure the health of your organization. Will you raise money from individuals? Foundations? Events? Don’t set a goal without knowing where you will raise the money. And don’t try to raise all the money from just one source.  If all your revenue comes from one grant or one special event, you’re flirting with disaster.  If something happens to that one revenue stream, you’ll find yourself struggling to keep the doors open.

3. Who will we ask?

Be specific. Who will you ask for money? Create lists of potential donors to ask.  Don’t expect the community at large to support you (it won’t happen).  You need to target current donors, lapsed donors, and warm prospects.  Cold calling doesn’t work too well in fundraising and it’s no fun, plus we all hate it, so don’t go there.

4. When will we ask?

Create a calendar of when you will ask. Include grant deadlines, events, etc. to get a complete picture of your year. You’ll be so glad you did this!

5. How much will we ask for?

You need to think through the amount you will request from each donor. You may have to do a little research in some cases to find out how much is appropriate, particularly if you’re working with major givers. I suggest you tie it to something tangible if possible.  For example, how much does it cost to provide service to someone?  What does it cost to provide a meal or a night’s lodging?  What does it cost to spay or neuter an animal? When you can ask someone for a gift that means something, they’ll be more likely to say “yes.”

6. How will we follow up on a gift?

You need to know how you will thank your donors, how you will steward gifts, and how you will build relationships. You want to have this all thought-out in advance.  This is NOT the time to cut corners or be reactive.

7. How soon will we ask again?

Don’t be afraid to ask several times during the year for a gift. If you only ask once during the year, I promise you that you are leaving money on the table! If you are doing a good job building relationships with your donors, they WANT to support the work you are doing. Make it easy for them by giving them multiple opportunities to give.


Want more help putting a plan together?

Check out my new video training called “6 Simple Steps to a Written Fundraising Plan.” It’ll become your favorite ‘go-to’ resource for creating a comprehensive annual plan for fundraising. Comes with 17 pages of handouts and worksheets.

Easy Vs Hard Way Road Sign

by Mandy Pearce


Read the guidelines.

They’re there for a reason.


In short, grant guidelines are instructions.

Grant guidelines are not suggestions, they are a specific set of rules that an applicant should follow when developing a grant proposal.

Guidelines can be anywhere from one page to hundreds of pages, depending on the agency/organization/foundation providing them.

Typically, the larger the funding opportunity, the longer and more complex guidelines will be. Focus

Guidelines can include everything from font size and type to be used, to the spacing of the pages/margins, information to be included and left out, specific items to be addressed, how to submit the application, etc.

Additionally, state or federal grant guidelines will likely provide a breakdown of the scoring system to be utilized in the peer review process. The explanation of the scoring system will probably include point values for each question and if there are bonus points available. This is helpful as programs are designed and strengths and weaknesses are assessed.

As I tell everyone I work with… read the guidelines, they are there for a reason.

Before you begin writing one word on the application, read every word in the guidelines.

Guidelines are a great way for donors to weed out applications. A funder will often discard an application based on lack of compliance with guidelines. While this may seem strict, it is only fair that a funder may assume if an applicant is unable to follow simple instructions in the guidelines, they may not comply with the grant contract if funded. This is a great reason to contact the program officer if you have questions or something is unclear.

I have read hundreds of pages of guidelines for a grant that allowed a maximum of 40 pages to be submitted. Every page is important. Be thorough and know everything being requested before you begin writing.


Mandy Pearce is the founder of Funding for Good. She’s an expert grant writer and fundraising coach. You can find more of her wisdom at Back Home